Books have seen steady sales throughout the pandemic — and not just for use in Zoom backgrounds.
The pandemic has presented challenges for all industries to varying degrees. But book publishing, an industry that faced challenges in the years before COVID-19, had a banner year from a sales standpoint.
According to the New York Post, book publishing had its largest sales figures in a decade.
To add to the rosy outlook, industry experts project book publishing to grow 2% over the next five years. The outlook for book publishing is brighter than it has been in recent memory, and not just because of the pandemic.
The forecast is so positive that Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle told the Atlantic Council we’re in a golden age for book publishing. In the interview, Dohle claims that “books are seeing their biggest renaissance since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press.”
Dohle’s positive projection is backed up by the numbers.
As the New York Post notes, sales of print books saw 8.2% year-over-year growth in 2020. The young adult segment was strong, growing 23% in non-fiction and 11% in fiction. Titles from these segments occupied more than half of the titles on the top-10 sellers list. Adult nonfiction books grew 4.8% year-over-year led by Random House’s publishing Barrack Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land. The first of two volumes from the former president sold nearly 2.6 million copies in 2020.
Other political titles that were top sellers included Sean Hannity’s Life Free or Die and Mary Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough.
But the success of the book segments goes beyond political turbulence.
Dohle cites social distancing and digital fatigue as key factors behind the success of book sales. With people forced to stay home, books provide some much-needed escapism from the stress of the current moment, in a way similar to magazines.
Furthermore, books provide a chance to deal with digital fatigue, get away from screens and read without a barrage of notifications. Our lives and interactions have never been more mediated through screens. As such, the experience of reading a print book is an increasingly novel and unique experience.
In this sense, E-books and audio book sales aren’t a concern for Dohle. While they continue to nibble into the print market, they can’t provide the same experience as print.
Dohle also sees other forms of media contributing towards the increasing popularity of books. The saturation of untrustworthy news outlets, particularly on social media, and the proliferation of this content has led towards people seeking the more factual “deep dive” that books provide.
The pandemic and its effects played a key role in boosting book sales. At the same time, longer trends like social media have also helped books rebound.
While the book outlook is encouraging, challenges remain.
There has never been a larger group of literate readers. But the money spent on recreational reading is in decline. Americans in 2019 spent 33 times more on “nontext diversions” such as television and Netflix than they did on books and recreational reading.
While the industry faces familiar challenges, there is something to be said about how the segment has succeeded throughout the pandemic.
Is it the best time for books in almost 600 years?
Time will tell.
But the segment’s recent success paints an undoubtedly rosy picture of potentially historic proportions.